About this Recording
8.573330 - KOSTER, L.: Suite dramatique / Ouverture légère / Waltz Suites (Estro Armonico Luxembourg Chamber Orchestra, Kaell)
English  German 

Lou Koster (1889–1973)
Suite dramatique • Ouverture légère • Waltz Suites


Lou Koster was born on 7 May 1889 in Luxembourg. Since there was no school of music or conservatory in her home country when she was a child, her grandfather Franz Ferdinand Bernhard Hoebich (1813–1900), who had by then retired as Kapellmeister of Luxembourg’s military band, taught her music theory, violin and piano. It was not until 1906 that she was able to complete her studies in these disciplines, plus singing and harmony, at the newly founded Luxembourg Conservatoire. She herself said that she felt called to become a composer when she was still a child. In this capacity she was largely self-taught. Although there was a composition class at the Luxembourg Conservatoire, it seems only to have existed on paper—not until the summer of 1943 did the first student take final exams in composition. Koster’s early works comprise songs and piano pieces, but soon she essayed larger compositions, such as the operetta An der Schwemm to a libretto by Batty Weber, which was first performed in 1922 to great acclaim. (A German version entitled Amor im Bade was given its première in 1927.) An excerpt from the operetta was released on shellac disc by Homocord in Berlin.

During the inter-war period, Koster found publishers for her piano works and songs in Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany (Schott Frères, Maison Musicale Moderne and F. Lauweryns in Brussels; Aurora in Weinböhla near Dresden; B. Schellenberg in Trier and Luxembourg; Kieffer-Binsfeld and Lëtzeburger Vollekslidder-Verl in Luxembourg). As well as composing, she worked as a pianist, violinist and orchestral musician, played palm court music in cafés, accompanied silent films, and sometimes appeared as an orchestral conductor. She also taught piano at the Luxembourg Conservatoire for 46 years. In the 1960s she founded the vocal ensemble “Onst Lidd”, performing her own compositions in innumerable concerts with them. On 9 July 1972 her largest work, Der Geiger von Echternach, a ballad for soloists, chorus and orchestra to a text by Nikolaus Welter, received its première. Lou Koster died on 17 November 1973 in Luxembourg.

During the inter-war period Lou Koster began writing for orchestra, composing the first of her total of thirty orchestral songs to texts by Paul Verlaine, Alfred de Musset, Theodor Storm, Eduard Mörike, Gottfried Keller, Hermann Allmers, Willy Goergen, Marcel Noppeney, Nik Welter, Agie Conrath and Nicolas Schaack, as well as the operetta An der Schwemm.

Composing good-quality light orchestral music—waltzes, marches, overtures, etc.—was no less important to Koster during this period. At first, it was the galas of the Swimming Club Luxembourg that gave the composer (who was also an enthusiastic competitive swimmer) the opportunity to prove her ability: in the intervals between the races, a salon orchestra—positioned above the shower cubicles and conducted by the young Koster—provided entertainment. Thus, Swimming March [an earlier version of Keep smiling], which was dedicated to the club, was first performed at the swimming gala of 25 June 1922.

Some of Koster’s total of 21 orchestral compositions survive in multiple autograph scores together with their associated individual parts, some only exist as fragments or have been lost altogether. The autographs carry no annotation regarding their date of composition, but notices advertising their performance can offer a terminus ante quem for their completion. That Unter blühenden Linden was composed during the early 1920s at the latest, is clear from a newspaper advertisement announcing a performance of the orchestral waltz suite to take place on 24 May 1922 at the entertainment venue the Majestic in Luxembourg.

There are historic recordings dating from the 1950s of a few of the works that have since been lost. One orchestral piece was also published: there are extant printed parts for Lore-Lore. Though the set of parts carries neither a date nor the publishing house’s name, there is much to indicate that they were published before the First World War by the German publishing house Aurora in Weinböhla, near Dresden. In addition, various autograph scores, such as Unter blühenden Linden, contain notes by the composer to a publisher.

The conductor Jonathan Kaell says of Lou Koster’s orchestral music:

A significant proportion of her symphonic oeuvre is comprised of waltz suites, whose form, musical language and phrase structure suggest that they were influenced by the great works of Viennese masters such as Johann Strauss. Despite this, Koster’s works have an individual touch and an unmistakable charm that immediately tells the discerning musician that they are not slavish imitations of the Viennese waltz “à la Strauss”, but represent a form that departs from its prototype in some respects—one that is the result of an intensive study of its exemplar and that develops it further. Lou Koster’s works come over as being musically authentic and unspoilt: they bubble over with the joy of making music and testify to the composer’s keen grasp of musical structure, elegant phrasing and harmonic balance.”

No less than eleven of Koster’s 26 works for piano also exist in versions for orchestra. It seems as though she began by composing piano originals for her own use as a pianist in cafés and accompanying silent films and only orchestrated them later. Evidence for performances of Lore-Lore appear to support this hypothesis: in 1914 Koster played the piano version to accompany a silent film, whilst the earliest record of a performance of the orchestral version is dated 11 October 1933. This waltz suite, which is dedicated to her sister Lore, is the only composition in her entire output to have been given an opus number (Op.13).

Koster produced several orchestral works in two versions at the same time, for salon orchestra (probably earlier versions dating from the 1920s) and for full symphony orchestra (probably the versions for the orchestra of Radio Luxembourg—the Grand Orchestre symphonique de RTL). Sometimes she gave a new version a new title: there is thus a second version of Heideland entitled Rêve bleu. Koster reworked the overture to her operetta An der Schwemm (1922) for full orchestra, as the first movement—Le soir qui chante—of her Suite dramatique; the third movement of the SuiteDanse au clair de la lune—also exists in a version for an even larger orchestra under the title Buschgeistertanz.

When, on 15 March 1933, Radio Luxembourg began Europe-wide broadcasting, Koster soon became one of the composers whose works were frequently broadcast live on air. In the six years from the time the station began broadcasting to when it suspended service on 21 September 1939 after the outbreak of the war, 43 of her compositions were aired at least 111 times—among them the waltz suites Lore-Lore and Moselträume included on this recording. The orchestra of Radio Luxembourg alone went into the studio to broadcast pieces by Koster 47 times under its conductor Henri Pensis (1900–1958). It was not so much the case that Pensis introduced the full range of Koster’s orchestral work, as that individual pieces like Keep smiling and Lore-Lore became hits and were played again and again, whereas her Suite dramatique, for example, was never given, and her orchestral songs were only rarely heard. As was then customary, transcriptions were also often made for radio. Between the summer of 1935 and the autumn of 1936, the piano and wind quintet Quintett Radio Luxemburg alone played thirteen different (and now lost) transcriptions of works by Koster a total of 44 times.

With her subtle, sensuous-sounding light music, whose many emotional nuances put it beyond superficiality and whose bold, unexpected turns are a constant surprise, Koster struck just the note that producers needed to build a loyal, broad-based European audience for the radio station. During the 1930s, radios became increasingly affordable. More and more people who were not regular concert-goers developed an enthusiasm for the new medium, which soon came to be celebrated as an ideal means of making culture and music available to all. Koster felt at home in this role of the composer-cum-purveyor of music, for throughout her life she strove to write music for a wider audience.

Lou Koster’s orchestral pieces were still being played by the radio orchestra in the 1950s and early 1960s, but they were then gradually forgotten, as many good-quality light orchestral pieces are. After Koster’s death, people thought her orchestral music had been lost, and no one could remember the pieces which had formerly been so popular. In 1996 I found the scores in someone’s attic. The Orchestre Estro Armonico and Cid-Fraen an Gender are now working together to bring this music back to life through concerts, CD releases and publishing projects.

When Lou Koster died, her complete works passed into private hands. Not until thirty years after her death were her compositions made accessible to the public through the newly established Lou Koster Archive at Cid-Fraen an Gender (for more information, see: www.cidfemmes.lu). Even though nearly a quarter of her output is still lost or only survives in fragmentary form, the archive today holds around 250 complete works (songs, piano, chamber and choral music, works for orchestra and orchestral songs, pieces for soloists, chorus and orchestra, an opera, stage works).

Danielle Roster
English translation: Sue Baxter

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